What a screen.
Samsung's Android-based Galaxy S Vibrant-a clear challenger to Apple's iPhone-is a knockout in quite a few substantial ways, but its screen is what will make you fall in love at first sight. It's mesmerizing.
Dubbed 'Super AMOLED', this 4-inch, 480-by-800 pixel display eliminates the traditional layer of air between the glass and the touch sensor, resulting in an exceptionally thin screen with preposterously good viewing angles, outstanding brightness and clarity, and excellent performance in sunny environments.
It's basically an HDTV-like viewing experience in the palm of your hand. I'm too much of video quality snob to ever have been legitimately interested in watching movies or television on a handheld device, but I can honestly say that I would willingly watch just about anything on the Galaxy's screen.
And yet, there's much more to the Galaxy than just a pretty face.
For starters, it doesn't demand much pocket space. The four-inch display is large, but thanks to Super AMOLED's über-thinness the handset never grows to more than 9.9 millimetres in girth-and that only at the very bottom of the phone, where there's a small bump on its back. And at just 120 grams-(swappable!) battery included-you'll hardly feel its presence.
What's more, Samsung's 1 GHz Hummingbird processor makes the Galaxy exceptionally quick. Whether I was toying with apps and widgets, running media, texting, making calls, I rarely encountered any lag in operation.
And the Galaxy's five-megapixel camera and 720p video capturing capabilities make for a fine argument to leave your dedicated image gear at home much of the time. I appreciated its spot-focus capability-just tap the subject to hone in-and its quick access controls for shooting modes and exposure control. There's no LED flash, but, if we're being honest, LED flashes are all but useless anyway. I didn't miss it. And sharing images via Android is a snap. Strike a couple of virtual buttons and you'll be sending phone-captured content to Picasa, email recipients, or your Facebook friends and Twitter followers.
On the subject of Android, the Galaxy currently runs version 2.1 of Google's mobile operating system, and Samsung has taken advantage of most of its higher profile features, like video calling (there's a secondary, front facing camera above the screen) and live wallpapers.
One of its most useful functions, though, is a networking option called Mobile AP that turns the Galaxy into a wireless mobile access point in seconds. Switch it on and your Galaxy will appear as a hotspot when you scan for networks with, say, a laptop, an iPad, or even another phone (I felt just a bit guilty using a Galaxy on Bell's network as an Internet access point through which to connect Rogers' Motorola Flipout, another phone I happened to be evaluating at the same time). Keep in mind, though, that you'll be wearing down the device's battery quite quickly, and you'll also be chewing through data. It's a great perk, but it could end up being an expensive one.
Samsung has also baked lots of proprietary software and widgets into the Galaxy, like "Swype." It's no secret that tapping out messages on touch-screen displays is no match for a good physical QWERTY keyboard. Swype is Samsung's optional alternative. It allows users to simply slide their fingers across the virtual keyboard, stopping on each letter they want to enter. It feels weird, and with no tactile distinction between virtual keys you'd think it would be inaccurate, but Samsung's software did a great job of figuring out the words I meant to type. Predictive text boxes occasionally popped up asking me to clarify the word entered, but for the most part I was able to simply swipe my finger around the screen and watch as the words I intended popped up in the message box.
There are plenty of other apps I could discuss-like Social Hub, which is Sumsung's way of allowing users to manage all their social networks in one place and make status updates to all services simultaneously, or AllShare, which makes use of DLNA sharing protocols to let users stream media stored on the phone to, say, audio systems or televisions. Suffice to say the Galaxy has no shortage of fun tricks up its sleeve.
One downside to the Galaxy is that it feels like it's made of plastic. Which, of course, it is. I'm not sure that's necessarily a bad thing, but when I pick it up I just don't feel like I'm holding a particularly sturdy device. It's worth adding this is solely a matter of perception-the handset doesn't creak or bend or show any other symptoms that it might not be well-built. Only time will tell how well it holds up through prolonged use. I suspect it will fare well, though I wonder if it will be able to withstand as many drops onto hard concrete as my iPhone has weathered without complaint.
And there it is. I use an iPhone. All things being equal, apps are what make or break a smartphone, and Apple's device simply has the best selection of quality programs and games-the latter of which is especially of interest to me since playing and evaluating games is part of my job. But Google's Android Market is growing quickly. It now has more than 100,000 apps, having doubled in size in the last three months alone (though keep in mind that there's a lot more detritus in Android's Market than Apple's App Store). And with phones like the Galaxy, Android has first-rate hardware capable of running neck-and-neck with the iPhone 4.
Assuming Android's selection of apps continues to expand, I could well be swayed toward a device like the Galaxy when next it's time for me to go handset hunting. And, really, that's what this is all about. Samsung's device may not be an iPhone 4 killer, but it is certainly a worthy competitor.